The Seduction of Brand X

Murder Brand

Like many in his generation, Joe had always dreamed of working in television. Too introverted to be an actor, he chose instead to study writing and break into the industry as a screenwriter.

Though he never did master the finer points of prose or dialogue, Joe had a flair for putting ideas together in ways that solved longstanding storytelling problems. He also possessed rare marketing savvy which helped him cultivate professional relationships and build buzz for his projects.

Joe did have one major problem. He loved two-fisted, white hat vs black hat Westerns more than any other kind of story. Classic Western movies, TV shows, and radio dramas had saturated his childhood. He’d constantly daydream about cowboys, Indians, and gunfights–conjuring an intricate fantasy world that he frequented well into adulthood.

But this was the early 70s. Simple tales of good and evil had given way to morally ambiguous stories that the studio heads called “complex and nuanced”. The Rural Purge had swept away popular shows like Petticoat Junction and Bonanza. The only shows getting the green light featured careerist urbanites–affluent, sophisticated, and nuanced.

Young Writer

Joe didn’t give up on his dream. Using his self-marketing genius, he sold a pilot script for a neo-noir TV show about a detective entangled in a web of sinister intrigue. Critics loved the ambiguous ending and widely interpreted the show as an allegory for the tyranny of McCarthyism. That hadn’t been Joe’s intention, but he never corrected the critics.

The detective show pilot bombed, but it put Joe on the big producers’ radar. His next script–a TV movie inspired by his youth in 1950s New York–was snatched up and rushed into production. The final product turned out to be a rather wholesome slice of Americana, but the suits didn’t notice because Joe had made sure to write a few key characters designed to stroke the studio execs’ egos.

This time, Joe’s work drew impressive ratings. The vision of a more innocent, vanished America resonated with viewers suffering from Vietnam and stagflation-induced malaise.

With a hit under his belt, Joe pitched his own Western series to the network heads. They took him aside and gently explained that Westerns were over. Nobody wanted another boring story about the sheriff gunning down the train robber. They wanted nuance and complexity.

Once again, Joe didn’t argue. He did his own thing, like always. A few calls to like-minded maverick writers and several investor meetings later, Joe had his series in pre-production under the aegis of his own production company.

Hex

The fruit of Joe’s labors was Brand X, a Western TV series clothed in sci fi trappings. The TV executives greenlighted the pilot based on its superficial resemblance to the popular dystopian future genre. But Brand X brought much more to the table. Because the suits left Joe alone to pursue his vision, the pilot featured creative solutions to old problems, like how to make robot dogs cool again. It also had a heaping brimful of heart.

Response to the pilot was mixed, tending toward positive. The ratings beat Joe’s detective pilot while performing somewhat below his 50s nostalgia piece. One of Joe’s good friends, the director of a cult hit police drama, went to bat for him and suggested a young editor fresh out of film school. The network brass agreed to pick up Brand X for the fall season.

In September of 1973, Brand X made its prime time premiere. Thanks to a major quality boost from its new editor and an unforgettable theme song by Ennio Morricone, Brand X became an overnight smash hit which often took #1 in its time slot. The series played to adult viewers’ nostalgia for the old Westerns while capturing a new youth demographic from Generation Jones.

Thus, Brand X entered the pop culture IP Explosion Phase. The network immediately ordered a second season, which Joe was only too happy to provide. As the financial end of his production company took up more and more of his time, Joe increasingly relied on veteran guest directors and legendary writer Edmond Hamilton to bring each episode to air.

Season 2 of Brand X won critical praise beyond any of Joe’s prior works and is considered the series’ high point by most fans. Joe privately took exception to this, since his creative involvement in Season 2 didn’t go much beyond pitching broad ideas at script meetings and approving outlines. He never hesitated to accept the credit his fans extended him, though.

By 1974, Brand X had spawned a spinoff comic book, toy line, and breakfast cereal. Joe’s financial acumen had reserved him a healthy cut of the profits, so he felt he had nothing to lose by asking the executives for a raise. The suits low-balled him, citing Season 2’s success as proof they could replicate Brand X‘s magic without him.

Joe finished out his contract with Brand X Season 4, which fans came to regard as an imperfect but welcome return to form. He wanted to prove he could still make blockbuster shows on his own, but the fact that he never really had, compounded by his slow drift out of touch with his audience, resulted in a B- product.

The suits brought in M*A*S*H scribe Larry Gelbart to write the fifth and final season, ensuring that Brand X would go on to the TV afterlife of perpetual syndication.

AotGR

Unencumbered by its original creator’s scruples, Brand X mushroomed into a multimedia empire throughout the late 70s and early 80s. A Saturday morning cartoon and an unreleased Roger Corman feature film joined the ongoing toy, comic book, and snack food lines in the glut of Brand X merchandise.

The ride came to a stop in 1984. Brand X reached oversaturation, and the public lost interest. Where once robot dogs, mutant showgirls, and psychic lawmen had lined store shelves, Brand X faded to a syndicated TV show that gave twentysomethings nostalgia pangs when the USA Network aired it on Saturday afternoons.

But Brand X hadn’t yet reached the end of the trail. After changing hands a number of times, the venerable series’ movie rights were acquired by SONY, who announced a new Brand X movie set to premiere in 1997. Fans eagerly embraced the studio hype machine, buying up the new tie-in novels, toys, and video games in advance of the hotly anticipated release.

Wild West Aliens

Brand X: Back in the Saddle debuted to critics’ jeers, which were drowned out by overenthusiastic fans’ rapture over their beloved franchise finally getting a theatrical release. As the novelty wore off, fans grudgingly admitted that the convoluted plot,  the addition of a sassy female gunfighter who often upstaged the male lead, and a bumbling sidekick named Squatchie probably weren’t the best artistic choices.

Nevertheless, moviegoers turned out in droves for Brand X: Rise of the South. The film series’ sophomore installment widened the story’s scope to encompass an evil conspiracy bent on reviving the Confederacy and sparking a second Civil War. Critics complained that the all-CG army of Johnny Reb-Bots fell into the Uncanny Valley, but everyone agreed that the darker tone and more mature themes improved on the first film. The tie-in single and accompanying video by R. Kelly hit #25 on the R&B charts.

By the time Brand X: The Reckoning hit theaters, excitement over the series had started to die off again. Fans still turned up to see “the last one,” but the related toy line and new animated series DVDs underperformed. By 2003, Brand X was once again moribund.

Brand X received yet another lease on life in 2012 when Disney bought out all rights to the IP. The House that Mickey Built announced a new movie trilogy, a concurrent anthology series, a rebooted novel universe, two new TV  series–one animated and one live action–six new Marvel Comics tie-in series, and more! Joe even bestowed his blessing from his private island via Skype.

Rewind

Disney made waves by hiring upstart indie director Taydon Wolf to helm their five hundred-million-dollar Brand X movie. Descended from a long line of Hollywood producers, Wolf won industry plaudits for digressing from his introduction of Dame Judi Dench at the Golden Globes to opine that, “This room looks like a Wehrmacht staff meeting.” Early production photos from the set garnered praise for showcasing Wolf’s vibrantly diverse casting.

Brand X: The Wakening debuted in 2014 to rave reviews from critics and fans alike. The story, which concerned a ragtag band of freedom fighters resisting the New Confederacy that had conquered the Southern, Central, plains, and mountain states, was hailed as relevant and mature. Fans of the TV series praised Wolf’s use of classic Western cinematography. Bleeding Cool crowned BXtW the best entry in the series, awarding it an 8.5/10, in contrast to BXtR, which they’d given a 9/10.

But grumblings from the fringes hinted at trouble in paradise. Longtime Brand X comics fans protested the move from DC to Marvel and the concurrent erasure of more than 30 years of continuity. The Brand X: Legacy limited series by Sense of Gender Award winner N.K. Jemisin confused many readers with its second-person voice, stream of consciousness narrative, and random digressions into chiastic verse. Readers who complained that the daunting story was necessary to understand the events bridging the film series were denounced by Wolf as “meth-addled skinheads.”

The release of Wolf’s follow up, Brand X: Reparation was initially scheduled for Christmas 2016, but was delayed until the following July due to weather issues during location shoots. The delay certainly had nothing to do with the entire cast and crew suffering a simultaneous breakdown over Donald Trump’s election. The finished film suffered as a result, earning only a 19% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics certified the movie Fresh™ at a combined score of 91%, owing to its complexity and nuance. BX:R star Ti Ha i tSʰakᵑ took to xir Twitter account to remind moviemakers that moviegoers were no longer their audience.

Production on Disney’s third Brand X movie ran into problems early on when multiple states where filming was scheduled to take place passed cannibalism and bestiality bans. Multiple companies, including Marvel, Lucasfilm, and ESPN joined Disney in protesting these vile attacks on religious freedom. All threatened to take their business elsewhere unless the states in question not only legalized, but mandated, consumption of human flesh and sex with dogs.

All five states’ Republican governors compromised, allowing Disney to draft new legislation which made cannibal buggers a legally protected class but gave the RNC ten points off the back end. All five bills sailed to legislative approval.

The large cost in time and money devoted to the legal battle left Brand X 6 behind schedule and over budget before production began. Wolf made a highly public exit from the project, declaiming on The View that it was a waste of his time to make movies for people who’d probably OD on heroin before they could buy tickets.

In the wake of the director’s departure, Disney briefly shelved the project before retooling it as a soft reboot. Filming on Brand X; X starts in May. The reboot stars Idris Elba as John Wayne as Genghis Khan, who must defend Chinese railroad coolies from the predations of a Christian cult led by a vampiric Abe Lincoln. Disney will donate one dollar of every ticket sold to the SPLC.

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